Over the past decade or so, the publishing industry has faced challenges it never could have predicted. The growth of technology has led to declining sales of magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals, as consumers and business owners move to the Internet for their media consumption. 

In the United States, magazine sales declined by nearly 10% in the first half of 2012, demonstrating that this trend is likely to continue. 

Rather than giving up, however, publishers are embracing technology to ignite progress — some by launching digital magazines, others by providing compelling subscriber-only content, and, even more, by exploring the value of their readership base as a potential revenue stream. 

It is important that editors and publishers discover exactly what their readers want in order to deliver it. 

By setting up their own panel of readers and subscribers, technology enables publishers to establish exactly the features and articles that interest readers, what kinds of celebrity or figurehead interviews they will be drawn to, and what layouts appeal to them.

Surveying readers also allows publishers to create accurate and timely media kits for potential advertisers. Historically, media kits were updated only annually, but in this fast-moving world, that may not be often enough. 

By creating their own survey panel, publishers can poll their audience as often as they like to offer media-buying agencies and their clients the most relevant and detailed information about readers, leading to greater advertising investment.

Peder Bonnier, head of digital media at Bonnier, explained how such technology affected the news media company’s revenue stream and digital strategy.

“[It] helps us, as digital publishers, to better understand our readers, and leads to increases in revenue through better content and more relevant targeting for our advertisers,” Bonnier says. “Taking full ownership of — and aggressively building — our own panel data and managing it through a flexible platform … is a key strategic advantage for us going forward.”

Access to magazine readers and subscribers is like gold for brands. Audience thoughts and opinions are highly sought after by marketers and brand managers who want to form the most effective strategies to increase their customer base and gain an edge on competitors. 

A parenting retailer, for example, might want to poll a selection of mothers and fathers of children under 5, and targeting the readers of baby and toddler magazines would be a shrewd approach. 

Or a new men’s toiletries company may want to find out what it’s prime demographic will respond to; reaching out to the readers of magazines such as Esquire, Maxim, or Men’s Health can form an accurate picture of this. 

Technology allows brands and individuals from around the world to deploy their questions to panellists. Both the panel owner and respondent receive a “thank you” payment. 

This financial benefit acts not only as an added incentive for publishers to create a research community, but also for their readers to participate. As budgets continue to be squeezed due to the global economic crisis, this arrangement provides an opportunity for individual readers to earn some pocket money, and possibly increase their loyalty to the particular magazine or journal due to this positive association. 

For the publisher, this fee can be banked as income or invested in the cost of undertaking more research as a way of collecting more and more intelligence to inform decisions and strategies. 

While technology has brought new challenges to publishers in the form of increased competition, it has also brought opportunities. Not only can readers now interact with their favourite publications online via Web sites and social media or through smartphones and tablets, but also with new tools such as these surveys. 

Publishers can now see a tangible financial benefit through embracing the opportunities technology offers.